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For some, health studies can help pay bills

Janet Muchmore, 57, of New Port Richey takes her daily dose of gabapentin as part of a medical trial studying the drug to treat pain in patients who have had shingles.

KERI WIGINTON | Times

Janet Muchmore, 57, of New Port Richey takes her daily dose of gabapentin as part of a medical trial studying the drug to treat pain in patients who have had shingles.

You name, she's tested it.

Skin creams? Check. Flu remedies? Check. Pudding? Check.

Caskets?

You betcha.

Gail Platt, a 61-year-old Safety Harbor grandmother, is a human guinea pig, and proud of it.

For the past 20 or so years, Platt has been a regular participant in clinical trials and research studies that go on daily throughout the Tampa Bay area.

She's one of hundreds of people who get money to test drugs and consumer items awaiting government approval or marketing hurdles — necessary steps before they are offered to the public.

The testers offer their bodies, preferences and pain, all in the name of science. And consumerism.

"I like the philosophy of it,'' said Platt, who estimates she has volunteered for somewhere between 20 and 30 studies. "I like participating in research that helps people's health. It's a little altruistic I guess.''

• • •

Every day, dozens of studies are under way at local commercial centers, doctors' offices and universities.

At St. Petersburg's Hill Top Research, a diaper rash study for babies is about to begin, fresh off one for toilet paper and another for deodorant. (Yes, a fair amount of arm pit sniffing was required.)

DMI Research in Largo is testing treatments for arthritis pain, ulcerative colitis and fibromyalgia. Others on horizon? Esophagitis and peripheral arterial disease.

In Tampa, Axiom Clinical Research has 24 studies in progress for diseases and problems such as multiple sclerosis, insomnia and restless legs syndrome.

"If nobody did drug studies, no drugs would be on the market,'' said Kathleen Carlson, Axiom's director of clinical research. "The participants make or break a study.''

Volunteers say they sign up as the human equivalent to lab rats for many reasons: to help researchers find better treatments, to get the free health care and to receive the money.

The recruitment of volunteers for human experimentation is controversial since participants are putting their health at some amount of risk.

Most research sites pay participants per-visit fees.

The money is not supposed to be high enough to be coercive, but it is supposed to be enough to compensate the testers for their time and travel.

Typically fees range from $25 to $50. They can go into the thousands, for multiyear, medically invasive trials.

One year, New Port Richey's Jan Muchmore, 57, received about $1,000 for a two-year menopausal study.

In the past eight years, the insurance company owner said she has been involved in testing treatment for acid reflux and irritable bowel syndrome. She's now testing a drug for pain related to a past shingles outbreak.

Muchmore takes one pill a day, visits Suncoast Clinical Research every five to six weeks and answers two questions daily about her pain level using a Palm Pilot-like device. The medicine makes her a little tired but the pain from the shingles she had eight months ago has dissipated.

Why does Muchmore agree to try drugs that have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration?

The free health care. During the menopause study, she said a mammogram detected an unknown leaking breast implant.

"If it hadn't been for them, I'd never known,'' said Muchmore, who will receive about $250 in all.

"Hey, it works for me,'' she said.

• • •

Repeat volunteers can be a problem for companies, especially in clinical trials.

Most studies forbid testers from being involved in more than one trial at a time. They have strict requirements for participants. They also require a gap of several days or months to pass before volunteers can begin a new trial.

Volunteers in most studies can opt out at any time.

"It's known in the industry that there are people who make a living doing studies,'' said Kathy Hann, owner of DMI. "We have to be very careful.''

Recently, Hann experienced a first in her 11 years in the business. A man tried to enroll in the same study at two different locations.

"The bottom line is he got busted,'' she said, "and now he's not in the study at either spot.''

Participants also list some downsides.

They often don't know if they're getting the real deal or a placebo in blind studies. And then, if a drug does work, they can't get it once the study ends.

For Walt Braley, a 53-year-old Largo engineer, giving blood was the worst part of the three studies he has joined for arthritis pain through DMI.

"My record was seven unusable draws,'' said Braley. "I have no veins.''

As for Platt, she prefers being involved in "easy stuff,'' like arthritis research.

"I don't do big, heavy deals,'' she said.

Through the years, she has stuck adhesives all over her body. She has talked into a cell phone that looked like fountain pen.

Perhaps the oddest experience was a test for baby caskets.

"They brought out these little tiny caskets out and we decided what one we would like,'' Platt said. "I liked the marble one. They wanted to know why we picked the one we did. They were very serious about it.

For some, health studies can help pay bills 06/01/08 [Last modified: Sunday, June 8, 2008 2:28pm]

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